Chapter 3: Jeopardized
Three pairs of feet scrambled across the ship, each with a separate thought clouding the mind. Personally, I thought of something minor, like the coffee machine was broken, or a bedsheet smelled far too similar to stale cheese that sat in a gutter for three months straight. Angel’s behavior, however, told a different story.
“Alright, while you two were busy stinking up the place, I checked over the radar systems to ensure they’re operational. From what I gathered, it seems they’re more than at peak capacity. We have a storm on our hands.”
Her tone was fearful, and yet eccentric, leading me to conclusions about the fate of our crew. This change in personality was odd and not necessarily problematic, but careful observation was required. Putting that aside, we entered the main control room.
Inside the room was an eerie blue glow that reflected off of the glimmering reinforced walls, the illumination originating from the holographic table in the center of the circular domain. Consoles and panels sat around the room, blinking lights and flashing buttons being the main standard for them. On one side was a large wall of glass, two chairs sat bolted down in front of the window with several steering mechanics taking place around them. To the science fiction reader, this exact layout about fifty years prior to this moment would seem very futuristic. Angel waved us over to the holo grid, interrupting my moment of inspection.
“Alright, here we are, about two million miles away from Europa. Sensors are picking up debris from something close by, which is interfering with our communications back to earth. Right now, we have no contact with the space program.”
Her somber words hit us hard. If we become disconnected with the program, we’d have to guess among three minds, not three thousand from back home. Even if that were the problem, how close we now were to the target was pressing for us to get communications back online. My concern though was what is causing the disruption?
“Alright, I agree that getting contact back is our top priority. What do you think might be the cause to the disturbance?” I questioned, prepared to hear a response that would be unable to work with.
“So far, I have nothing. Joric, what do you think?” She shot our attention over to the bearded wonder. His expression of surprise told us already his riposte to counter the question.
“I think it might be the transponder outside. That thing is the catalyst which sends messages between us and command. If that thing went, we go with it.” The Icelandic man said with a calm attitude shading over his features.
His aptitude for figuring out issues was unmatched by anyone else on the crew, hence why he was one of the primary candidates for this crew. Somehow though, his easygoing persona gave me a chill, something about his relaxed view of the problem. Maybe I was reading too deeply into it. He was probably trying to keep the sanity of our crew in check, something that was a necessity to sustain such a long trip through the expanse of flashing stars and shooting chunks of ice.
Coming to the conclusion that one of us had to venture out once more into the darkness to ensure the transponder was working properly, we voted that I was best suited for such a menial task.
My feet lagged behind me with discontent, personally feeling dread that I was chosen to do this. Screw this democracy thing, dictatorships were the way to go, especially if I were in control. But that wasn’t the case. My job was simple, and I could adhere to such a trivial task.
Suiting up again in my personal space suit, I began like most kings would, one leg at a time. Securing the boots to my feet, I started on the torso. Reaching my arms further into the depths of the sleeves, my appendages at the end fidgeting to make sure they were in their proper place, I then started to close the gaps in the body. Once that was done, staring right in front of me was the gold tinted visor of my helmet. The overhead lights threw back to my corneas a radiating incandescence. Within the reflection was a man who looked like me, talked like me, appeared to be me. The difference between him and me was that one of us dug their fear deep within their figure. That one was not me. Turning around the helm very few could don, I raised it up to my head, locking it over my fragile noggin. To me it was something more than just a protective device; it was the very image of what uncovering the riddles of space entailed.
The red light above me began its usual warning. Outside of my vacuum-bound suit, the sizzling of the chamber entered my ears. Once the pressure equalized with the outside, the sound was terminated. Soon following, the doors parted way, allowing me to enter the seclusion of space.
Hobbling out of the airlock, a grated trail of metal extended out around the ship. Before taking another step, I reached for the side of my helmet. Pressing my fingers against the communication switch, I started.
“Hello? Check one two.”
Even if our com system failed, I had a task to do. That was part of the job, the ability to adapt and survive in any and all environments. Luckily there was a buzzing on the other side of the communicator.
“We have confirmation, short range signals still work,” Joric’s voice boomed over the system, somewhat hurting my head with his sudden explosive tongue. He was also very enjoyable to have along for the ride, bringing a sense of morale to the team in overall.
“Great, would you mind moving the microphone away from your face? Thanks. Also, where is the transponder located?”
Posing the question, there was a moment of brief silence, almost as if he was hesitating in his response. There was no buzzing for a short time, so I proceeded along the metal walkway.
My feet clung to the surface with ease, limiting my bouncing so I didn’t fly off into nothingness. Looking around the exterior of our mighty vessel, various marks and scratches gave evidence that the materials in space were damaging enough to cause physical scarring to the exterior plating of the ship. This meant that I had to be extra careful in order to maintain a certain level of vitality. A buzzing came over the com.
“Okay, we think the transponder is near the bridge’s exterior, most likely on top. It should look like a several prongs sticking out of the top with a small box at the base of it. Start there,” Joric said in a professional manner, justifying his late reply.
Taking in the new information, I commenced the first steps toward recovering signals between us and Earth. Quite literally, however, the first steps were just that: baby steps along the track. Slow and steady wins the race, except this wasn’t a race, and the loser would get ejected out into space with minimal chances of being rescued. Just another day at the office if you asked me.
Slowly making my way across the platform, easing my way toward the device, I had a moment to consider the issues plaguing our shuttle. To a certain extent the problems were minor, fairly trivial with easy remedies to combat them. But with the accumulation of two problems at the same time, something was going on.
Our crew has been out in these regions of space for about nine months. Over the course of the mission, we only had seven different and separate accounts of ice barrages and coffee machine blunders. For the most time, it was the coffee being far too cold to even be considered consumable where the creamer didn’t even set in well enough. The only other occurrence of complications setting in was when we flew directly into a storm of debris particles from a passing comet. The shards tore through two different sections of the hull, but ultimately failed to puncture a hole to the interior. The wounds were superficial, common complaints we prepared for starting our quest.
It took us about two weeks to complete the repairs, but this failure of both communications and turbines was no mere coincidence. Chances of that occurring naturally was slim to nothing. No, something or someone was sabotaging our journey. It was up to me to discover the source of these headaches and put an end to them once and for all. Without a shift in our favor, this mission had limited potential for being successful in the long run. These concerns were our burden to carry, and I’d sooner get shot from the airlock than wait around for this objective to get compromised.
Coming upon the transponder, a blinking yellow light sat at the base of the grouped antenna. Flashing from a box also next to the base, I crawled along the cylindrical hull. Seeing as there was no gravity in space, or any form of securing myself to the ship aside from the safety cord, I squatted down. Then like a frog, my legs acted as springs to propel me at the grouping of mechanical devices.
Using the cord as a rappel, I Indiana Jones’d this thing and whipped myself around to the top. With the inertia that I built up, my slingshot just barely came in contact with the prongs, but being adept in my field of work, my hand managed to get a hold of a strut erected out of the surface. Using that as an anchor, my body slammed unconventionally into the framework, the lack of gravity a sponge that absorbed the majority of the impact. Seeing as it was a success, I emerged as the victor here, allowing me to commit myself to delve into the replenishment of the transponder.
Coming into the vicinity of the control box, I crouched down, pressing down one knee. Lifting the lid, the yellow light ceased to function. Inside were various switches and buttons, all of them labeled for something else. I tapped my helmet.
“Joric, walk me through this. What am I looking at?” Inquisition coming over my mind, I asked about the box, and what was required of me to complete the task at hand.
“Alright, there should be three switches. From what we’re getting they seem to appear offline. Flick them on and press the bright orange button beside them.”
His answer was brusk, very straightforward and to the point. My eyes glanced around the contents, nothing popping out as extraordinary. There were about ten different switches, all of them had the similar appearance which failed to distinguish themselves from each other. Something was odd, all of them appeared to be offline. Either this was intentional or… there truly is a saboteur aboard the Riptide.
Labels next to them all indicated which ones were which, and all of them were flicked off. How did no one pick up on this right away? The control operator would… Joric! He has to be the culprit as we rotate control operators every two months. The last three weeks were Joric’s, thus allowing him enough time to tamper with everything. But then again, I could be getting ahead of myself. If I say anything, Angel could be in danger were I to accuse Joric. No, this had to be taken with consideration, every detail had its place in the puzzle, and the harm any one of us could do could have such a significant detrimental impact.
With that final thought, a shard of ice floated by my helmet, soon after another, then another. This is not good.